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Stop Istanbul EUDC 2018

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Debaters of Europe,

As current and former debaters of the European Universities Debating Championships, we urge you not to vote for the proposed Istanbul EUDC 2018 contingency bid.

Turkey is currently in a state of emergency after the events of 15 July 2016. 5,342 academics are among 120,000 people suspended from their jobs in the aftermath of these events. In one of the many cases in which civil society figures have been persecuted, Amnesty International’s Turkey chair is still in prison and faces trial alongside 10 more human rights defenders. The leaders and some MPs of the left-wing HDP party have also been arrested, with prosecutors seeking a 142-year prison sentence party chair Selahattin Demirtas. Turkey also currently has more journalists in prison than any other nation. An estimated 40,000 people have been arrested in connection to those events. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has publicly led and endorsed this crackdown, saying that all those in prison are ‘terrorists.’ A case in point is that the entire leadership of the Turkish Doctors Association has been detained because they put out a statement saying "war is a public health issue" - they have also been branded as terrorists.

Turkish debating itself has faced problems due to the AKP, with police actually turning up at tournaments where "critical" topics were covered or opposition views expressed.

Yavuz Yiğit has put forward a contingency bid to host EUDC 2018 in Istanbul if Scottish Euros fail to secure accommodation before a 23 February deadline. In his recent Istanbul Open, Yavuz invited Erdogan to present the awards to the winning speakers and organised for photos to be taken with participants. The tournament’s co-Convenor was a youth leader within the governing AKP party. We question his intention and ability to keep his promise to involve people from multiple Istanbul universities and different political backgrounds. Indeed, the amenities and sponsorships he outlined for his bid suggest that he is making use of his political connections. Moreover, many Turkish debaters had tried to discourage foreign debaters from attending Yavuz’s event, as they correctly predicted that Erdogan’s attendance would be used to mask his crackdown on free speech and dissent. Footage from the event including remarks by Erdogan was played on national television.

There is a liberal case to be made that Europe should support countries without freedom of speech through the act and art of debate. However, this EUDC would be at the behest of the AKP and would act only as a whitewash of other illiberal acts which are destroying free speech and debate in Turkey.

Moreover, attendees from European nations with any political negotiations ongoing with Turkey are at personal risk. Turkey literally kidnaps foreign citizens to use as pawns in negotiations (see Andrew Brunson being used against the US and Peter Steudtner and Deniz Yucel being used against Germany.) As such, anyone from countries such as Greece, Germany, Israel, the UK, the Netherlands would be at real risk of detention on spurious grounds as they are effective weapons in Turkey's increasingly aggressive international relations.

We urge EUDC Council delegates not to vote for a bid that would trust this competition to people who have openly sided with a government which is leading an unprecedented crackdown on the right of assembly, free speech and political dissent, alongside numerous other rights violations. We stand in solidarity with Turkish debaters whose efforts to foster a culture of free speech in Turkey are remarkable. Awarding this particular bid the right to host is an affront to their efforts and to the struggle of those who attempt to oppose this government’s authoritarianism. It is also an insult to the proud tradition of this competition.

The undersigned.

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